Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Isle of Dogs


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Wes Anderson is truly one of the most original voices in the history of cinema. With every film he has made, his trademark quirky storytelling & quintessential visual style have been welcome additions to cinema. He definitely is a modern-day auteur.

So, of course Isle of Dogs would be one of my most anticipated films of 2018. And it definitely surpassed those high expectations for it. It's definitely one of Wes Anderson's best films. Set in Japan 20 years from now, the film follows 5 dogs: Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston); Rex (voiced by Edward Norton); Duke (voiced by Jeff Goldblum); King (voiced by Bob Balaban); & Boss (voiced by Bill Murray). (Note: all of the dogs speak in English. The Japanese characters speak in unsubtitled Japanese, which is translated through either Interpreter Nelson (voiced by Frances McDormand) or a Simul-Translate Machine (voiced by Frank Wood). There is also a semi-frequent Narrator (voiced by Courtney B. Vance).). They, along with all the other dogs from (fictional) Megasaki City, have been forcefully relocated to Trash Island through a decree issued by Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura) in order to prevent the transfer of dog flu & snout fever to the populace, despite news from Professor Watanabe (voiced by Akira Ito) & Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono (voiced by Yoko Ono) that both a cure for dog flu & a treatment for snout fever are almost ready.

Six months after the decree, Atari Kobayashi (voiced by Koyu Rankin), the 12-year-old orphaned nephew & ward of Mayor Kobayashi, lands on Trash Island in search of his former dog, Spots (voiced by Liev Schreiber), who was the first dog sent to Trash Island. Rex, King, Duke & Boss decide to help Atari find Spots; however, Chief refuses, as he does not like to come in contact with humans, as he was a former stray. However, with some persuading from former show dog Nutmeg (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), Chief agrees to help find Spots. Together, they set off on a journey through Trash Island to find Spots, leading them to sage dogs Jupiter (voiced by F. Murray Abraham) & Oracle (voiced by Tilda Swinton), who tell them of a possible "cannibal" tribe of dogs on the other end of the island led by Gondo (voiced by Harvey Keitel) & Scrap (voiced by Fisher Stevens). And this all attracts the attention of American foreign exchange student Tracy Walker (voiced by Greta Gerwig), who believes something more sinister may be occuring.

The cast is amazing. Bryan Cranston easily gives his best film performance, with such heart & humor. Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban & Bill Murray provide some great support voices to Cranston. Koyu Rankin also does some stellar voice work. And it's always a delight to see (or hear) Greta Gerwig in a film.

Wes Anderson's direction is spectacular. All of his trademarks are on full display: whip pans, symmetrical designs, the use of the Futura font, etc. And they are all used excellently. But if you're a Wes Anderson fan, you would already guess that they would.

The screenplay by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman & Kunichi Nomura is brilliant. The story is hilarious & heartwarming, & the terrific deadpan humor never misses a beat.

Alexandre Desplat's score is fantastic. The score is powered by an array of drums, chimes, & a baritone chorus, making for a quirky & haunting listening experience.

And the animation is absolutely wondrous. Stop-motion animation has never been used better than it has here, & it adds to the quirky atmosphere of the film.

This is one of the best animated films I've ever seen. It has some of the best voice work ever, & it's Wes Anderson at his quirkiest. What more could you ask from him?

Isle of Dogs was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Thursday, April 5, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 101 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for thematic elements & some violent images.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Flower


★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The rebellious teenager character has been a tired trope for many years in film. Although some recent films have added a fresh feel to the character (like Lady Bird), most have failed.

Flower could've been a fresh addition, but it definitely wasn't. The film follows Erica Vandross (played by Zoey Deutch), a rebellious 17-year-old in the Los Angeles suburbs. In order to bail her father out of jail, Erica has resorted to prostitution in order to gain $15,000. Along with prostituting the men, her friends, Kala (played by Dylan Gelula) & Claudine (played by Maya Gashet), film these encounters, & use them to blackmail the men that Erica is prostituting herself towards.

Her mother, Laurie (played by Kathryn Hahn), is about to get married to her recent boyfriend, Bob (played by Tim Heidecker). Erica, Laurie & Bob eventually pick up Bob's son, Luke (played by Joey Morgan) from rehab, which he was in due to his pill addiction. After some awkward moments at first, Erica & Joey form a serviceable stepsibling relationship.

At the bowling alley, Erica, Kala & Claudine notice an older guy bowling with his buddies. The man is Will (played by Adam Scott). When Erica goes with Luke, Luke notices Will, & tells her that Will was a former teacher of his who molested him. Shocked by this, Erica, Luke & her friends decide to stalk him & take justice for his molestation. But they end up getting deeper into this than they could've ever imagined.

The cast is decent. Zoey Deutch shows that she is one of the best young actresses at the moment. Joey Morgan also gives a great performance. However, Kathryn Hahn is absolutely annoying, & Adam Scott feels wasted here.

Max Winkler's direction is underwhelming. Winkler decides to play the film's content straight, instead of capitalizing on some of the comedic undertones of the film.

The screenplay by Max Winkler, Alex McAulay & Matt Spicer is a disaster. The dialogue is terrible, & the plot becomes somewhat disgusting towards the end, which may have worked if said content had been played as more darkly comedic than it ended up being portrayed.

And Joseph Stephens' score is excellent. The score is very ambient in tone, powered by synth music, & is absolutely gorgeous & a joy to listen to.

This is one of the more disappointing films of the year. Although Deutch & Morgan are great, & the score is fantastic, everything else is a mess.

Flower was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Saturday, March 31, 2018. It is no longer in theaters in the Detroit area. Its runtime is 90 minutes, & it is rated R for crude sexual content & language throughout, graphic nude drawings, some drug content, & a brief violent image.

The Leisure Seeker


★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Great acting can only go so far in a film. Even if you had some of the greatest actors all in one film, even they might not be able to save the film without some serviceable direction & at least decent screenwriting, 

And that hasn't been more evident in a long time than it is in The Leisure Seeker, a well-acted, but very disappointing comedy-drama. Based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Michael Zadoorian, & set in August 2016, the film follows Ella (played by Helen Mirren) & John (played by Donald Sutherland) Spencer, a Massachusetts couple in their 70s. Both suffer from different illnesses; Ella suffers from an unspecified type of cancer, while John, a former literary scholar & professor, suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

Looking for one last time together before their illnesses ravage them even more, Ella & John take a trip from the suburb of Beverly, Massachusetts to Ernest Hemingway's house in the Florida Keys in their 1978 Winnebago they call The Leisure Seeker. They do this without alerting their adult children, Jane (played by Janel Moloney) & Will (played by Christian McKay), or their neighbor, Lillian (played by Dana Ivey).

On the way, they encounter Clinton rallies, Trump rallies, big families, & some great burgers. But as their road trip gets closer to its destination, & as their illnesses get even worse, secrets start to arise to the surface, along with some delusions about an old friend, Dan Coleman (played by Dick Gregory).

The cast is great. Mirren & Sutherland, some of film's finest actors, are both excellent here. However, the supporting cast, aren't as great, but their characters weren't that well-developed.

Paolo Virzì's direction is mediocre. Virzi tries to juggle some jarring tonal shifts & balance comedy & drama, but fails miserably. He tries his hardest, but it was nowhere near where it should've been.

And the screenplay by Paolo Virzì, Francesca Archibugi, Francesco Piccolo & Stephen Amidon is terrible. The story is very saccharine & very predictable, & doesn't do a good job of adapting from the novel. Also, the film tries to add some political context, which doesn't affect the plot at all.

This is a very disappointing film. Although Mirren & Sutherland are excellent, nothing else about this film is excellent. This film should've been so much better.

The Leisure Seeker was seen by me at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Hills, MI on Friday, March 30, 2018. It is currently in 6 theaters in the Detroit area, including the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI, the AMC Star Great Lakes 25 in Auburn Hills, MI, the Emagine Novi in Novi, MI, & the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 113 minutes, & it is rated R for some sexual material.

Ready Player One


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

When it comes to blockbusters, Steven Spielberg is the man. He practically invented them. From Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind & Raiders of the Lost Ark to E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Jurassic Park & War of the Worlds, Spielberg is your go-to-guy for a good, old-fashioned blockbuster that will knock your socks off.

Ready Player One is nothing short of a fantastic blockbuster, & ranks up with some of Spielberg's best. Based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Ernest Cline & set in 2045 Columbus, the film follows Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan), an 18-year-old orphan living with his aunt, Alice (played by Susan Lynch) & her boyfriend, Rick (played by Ralph Ineson) in a working-class area of Columbus called "The Stacks." Wade spends most of his time in the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation (OASIS), a virtual reality world where people can work, go to school or entertain themselves. The OASIS was created by James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance) & Ogden Morrow (played by Simon Pegg), who had left the OASIS some years prior.

Recently, Halliday died. In a video made shortly prior to his death, Halliday states that he has left an Easter egg in the OASIS in a game called Anorak's Quest. The first to find the Easter egg will gain control of the OASIS. Many people, called "Gunters" (egg hunters), are going after it, along with video game corporation Innovative Online Industries (IOI), headed by CEO Nolan Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn), going so far as building a large group of Gunters called "Sixers" to go after it. However, no one has even made it past the first task: a large obstacle course race through New York.

Wade, under his avatar name, Parzival, is one of these Gunters, partnering up with Aech (played by Lena Waithe) most of the time. During the first race, he encounters Samantha Cook, AKA Art3mis (played by Olivia Cooke), a very famous Gunter, & saves her from being zeroed (having her progression wiped out). Together, the three of them, along with two other Gunters, team up as the High Five. But mercenary gamer i-R0k (played by T.J. Miller), Sorrento, & the rest of IOI are after them in their quest for control of the OASIS, & will stop at nothing to destroy them.

The cast is amazing. Sheridan is great. Mendelsohn is fantastic, showing he is severely underrated. Pegg is also great, showing a vast improvement on his American accent from his horrendous use of it in 2006's Big Nothing. Waithe also provides some great comic relief. But the 2 greatest performances from the film are from Olivia Cooke, who gives an excellently nuanced performance proving she is one of the best young actresses of her generation, & Mark Rylance, who is also perfectly nuanced, cementing himself as one of my favorite actors. (However, although he was great, I would've replaced T.J. Miller, considering his recent sexual assault allegations & his recent indictment of making a false bomb threat, with another comedic actor).

Steven Spielberg's direction is excellent. Spielberg still knows how to direct a blockbuster. His sense of childlike wonder is still so fresh & exciting.

The screenplay by Ernest Cline & Zak Penn is brilliant. They do a fantastic job of adapting from the source material, while also writing some great characters & also some great, & at times, hilarious dialogue. And their use of cultural references is so awesome.

Janusz Kamiński's cinematography is astounding. Every shot is gorgeous, especially the shots inside the OASIS, which are just absolutely perfect.

The editing by Michael Kahn & Sarah Broshar is excellent. The film is very fast-paced, & is also cut very well, unlike most modern blockbusters.

Adam Stockhausen's production design is phenomenal. The design of the OASIS is absolutely fantastic, & some of the best production design of the decade.

The sound design is incredible. Every action scene has fantastically loud sound design, especially the race scene, that has some of the best sound design of the decade.

Alan Silvestri's original score is amazing. Powered by an array of brass instruments & drums, Silvestri's score matches the fierce pace & tone of the film.

And the visual effects are spectacular. The CGI is some of the best of the decade, & there is not a single false note in these effects.

This is one of Spielberg's best blockbusters. It's visually stunning, feverishly paced, & incredibly well-acted.

Ready Player One was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Thursday, March 29, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 140 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity & language.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Unsane


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

If you look at Steven Soderbergh's career, you will find that it is very diverse. Soderbergh is best known for directing all 3 films of the Ocean's Trilogy, Erin Brockovich, & Traffic, for which he won the Oscar for Best Director. His more obscure films include Schizopolis, which was non-linear; Bubble, an unscripted film with non-professional actors; & Che, a 2-part biopic of Che Guevara.

Unsane definitely falls into the latter category. It's a fantastic psychological thriller that subverts many aspects of the genre. The film follows Sawyer Valentini (played by Claire Foy), a younger businesswoman starting a new job. She has started a new job in order to get away from her stalker, David Strine (played by Joshua Leonard), who has been stalking her for 2 years.

Seeking help, Sawyer joins a support group for harassment victims. When applying to join, she mentions that she had, in the past, contemplated suicide. After the consultation, she signs some documents. This leads to her being involuntarily committed to the Highland Creek Behavioral Center for 24 hours, headed by Ashley Brighterhouse (played by Aimee Mullins).

After an altercation with an aggressive patient, Violet (played by Juno Temple), Sawyer's stay is extended to a week. She finds herself alone at Highland Creek. However, she does find a friend in recovering addict Nate Hoffman (played by Jay Pharoah).

Eventually, Sawyer starts to see David around Highland Creek, believing it's him; however, no one else believes her. As she gets further into her stay, she goes as far as calling her mother, Angela (played by Amy Irving) to get her out. But as she sees more of the person she believes is David, we wonder: is she sane or isn't she?

The cast is excellent. Claire Foy gives an absolutely frightful performance, & shows that she is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Joshua Leonard is absolutely creepy as well.

Steven Soderbergh's direction is amazing. Soderbergh makes every single moment of the film intense, & adds a fresh feel to the psychological thriller genre.

The screenplay by Jonathan Bernstein & James Greer is brilliant. The plot has so many twists & turns, & is so disturbing & uncomfortable at times.

Steven Soderbergh's cinematography (under the name Peter Andrews) is fantastic. Shot on an iPhone 7 Plus, the film has better visual style than any video ever shot on any phone, let alone an iPhone. The camerawork from the iPhone 7 Plus also adds a claustrophobic feel, heightening the tension, & some of the shots are very reminiscent of The Shining.

And Steven Soderbergh's editing (under the name Mary Ann Bernard) is phenomenal. The film is tightly paced, & heightens the tension.

This is one of the best films of the year. Claire Foy is outstanding, & Steven Soderbergh makes us feel tense & disturbed at every turn.

Unsane was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Saturday, March 24, 2018. It is currently in 6 theaters in the Detroit area, including the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI; the MJR Westland Grand Cinema 16 in Westland, MI; the MJR Southgate Digital Cinema 20 in Southgate, MI; & the MJR Brighton Towne Square Digital Cinema 20 in Brighton, MI. Its runtime is 98 minutes, & it is rated R for disturbing behavior, violence, language & sex references.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Death of Stalin


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

When it comes to satire these days, Armando Iannucci is the master. From TV shows like The Thick of It & Veep to the film In the Loop, the Scottish satirist has always been at the top of his form, only getting funnier & funnier as he creates more & more satires of past & present governments around the world.

The Death of Stalin is easily Iannucci's best work. It's Iannucci at his most biting, at his most detailed, &, most importantly, his most hilarious. Based on the 2010 graphic novel La mort du Staline by Fabien Nury & Theirry Robin, & set in 1953 Russia, the film follows various members of the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin (played by Adrian McLoughlin). One night, Stalin, calling from his home, orders a recording of a Mozart recital, which was not recorded. Comrade Andreyev (played by Paddy Considine) quickly tries to get the crowd back into the arena to replicate a large crowd, even going as far as getting people walking outside to come in, & replacing the passed-out conductor with a merely adequate conductor. The pianist, Maria Yudina (played by Olga Kurylenko), leaves a message for Stalin in the sleeve of the recording.

After Stalin puts on the recording, he notices the message on the floor. While reading the message, Stalin bursts out laughing... then collapses from a cerebral hemorrhage. The next morning, the first to arrive is NKVD Head Lavrentiy Beria (played by Simon Russell Beale), who discovers the message. Next to arrive is the meek Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov (played by Jeffrey Tambor). Beria tries to guide Malenkov into taking Stalin's place, trying to use him as a puppet.

Next to arrive is Moscow Party Head Nikita Khruschev (played by Steve Buscemi), along with the remainder of the Central Committee, except for Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (played by Michael Palin), who was put on a list of Stalin's enemies just the previous night. Beria decides to have the NKVD replace the Soviet Army at their posts, close Moscow's borders, & to replace Stalin's enemy lists with his own, effectively removing Molotov from the list.

Eventually, Stalin dies. Around that time, Stalin's daughter, Svetlana (played by Andrea Riseborough), & Stalin's belligerent son, Vitaly (played by Rupert Friend), arrive. As the state funeral grows closer, & more & more dignitaries arrive, including war hero Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov (played by Jason Isaacs), the infighting between the various politicians reaches a boiling point, where everyone wants a seat at the top.

The cast is fantastic. Steve Buscemi is completely spectacular here. Simon Russell Beale is both hilarious & dangerous. Jeffrey Tambor is hilariously awkward. Jason Isaacs is brilliantly funnyAnd it's great to see Michael Palin in something again.

Armando Iannucci's direction is excellent. Iannucci's decision to have his actors keep their regular accents only adds to the excellent humor here. Also, he doesn't shy away from the countless atrocities committed by Stalin during his reign of terror in the Soviet Union.

The screenplay by Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin & Peter Fellows is brilliant. Alongside their faithful adaptation of Nury & Robin's graphic novel, the dialogue is some of the funniest ever. The lines always pack more than several humongous laughs.

Suzie Harman's costume design is amazing. The costumes are period-accurate, from the elegant clothing of the Soviet autocracy to the ragged clothing of the Soviet citizens.

Cristina Casali's production design is excellent. The sets are also period-accurate, especially the elegant sets of the huge Soviet government buildings.

The makeup & hairstyling is phenomenal. It is not only period-accurate, but also, in some cases, hysterically funny, especially with Jeffrey Tambor's hilarious wig.

And Christopher Willis's score is amazing. Buoyed by sections of low-brass instruments & sections of string instruments, the score compliments the tense feeling of the Soviet government after Stalin's death.

This is one of the funniest films in recent memory. Along with being Iannucci's best work, this is a biting reminder of a hectic political era, something that seems all too familiar in America today.

The Death of Stalin was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Friday, March 23, 2018. It is currently in 7 theaters in the Detroit area, including the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Hills, MI; the AMC Livonia 20 in Livonia, MI; & the Rave Cinemas Ann Arbor 20 in Ypsilanti, MI. Its runtime is 107 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, violence & some sexual references.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Loveless


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I'm just going to be honest right off the bat here: some people just shouldn't be parents. Some people are just so cruel & heartless that if they had children, their children would be so scarred in more ways than one. But sadly, other people who are some of the nicest people in the world can't have children. Why they can't have children when other horrible people can, I won't ever know. But anyway, there are a select group of people who shouldn't be parents.

If there was ever a film that showcased this adage, Loveless would be it. It's so bleak & depressing, but so worth the depression. It's so excellently acted & tensely directed that it's worth walking out feeling cold & empty. Set in 2012, the film follows Zhenya (played by Maryana Spivak) & Boris (played by Aleksey Rozin), a couple in Moscow that is in the midst of a divorce.

They have nothing but hatred towards each other. Zhenya is in a relationship with Anton (played by Andris Keišs), while Boris is in a relationship with Masha (played by Marina Vasilyeva). In the midst of this, their 12-year-old son, Alexey (played by Matvey Novikov), is neglected & mistreated by both of them.

One day, Alexey disappears, but Zhenya didn't realize it until the school called & said he hasn't been to school in 2 days. The police see this as just another runaway child case, & expect him to return within a few days. However, this quickly passes, & he doesn't return. The police fail to search any further, so a volunteer group takes up the effort. But the longer Alexey is missing, the more loveless Zhenya & Boris ultimately become.

The cast is excellent. Spivak & Rozin fire off of each other so excellently that when they fight, it feels so painfully real. But Novikov is the star here. Although he doesn't have a lot of screen time, he does so much with that screen time as Spivak & Rozin do with much more screen time.

Andrey Zvyagintsev's direction is spectacular. Zvyagintsev manages to get so much powerful emotion out of his actors. His approach to the film is very reminiscent of the films of Ingmar Bergman, evident by the cold atmosphere & the bleak tone.

The screenplay by Andrey Zvyagintsev & Oleg Negin is amazing. The dialogue feels so powerful & is so brutally honest. But the plot is the real gem. At the surface, the film seems to be about Alexey's disappearance & Zhenya & Boris's lives. But if you look a bit deeper, some themes start to arise. The themes of human nature, the views of Russian society, the Russian occupation of Ukraine, & the sociopolitical climate are in the background, but are still dealt with excellently.

And Mikhail Krichman's cinematography is stunning. The color palette is very dark, with a beautiful mix of blues & grays, reflecting the bleak tone of the film.

This is one of the best foreign films of the decade. It's excellently acted & directed, & the themes at the whole of it are so well-explored that it's worth the depression this film will likely give you.

Loveless was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, March 16, 2018. It is no longer in theaters in the Detroit area. Its runtime is 127 minutes, & it is rated R for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, language & a brief disturbing image.